Walking Wainwright’s way

If you’ve been inspired by the ITV programme Britain’s Favourite Walks, you’re far from alone. The nation is now tightening its boot laces and heading to the hills, and, in several locations - including the top spot, Helvellyn - hikers are following in the footsteps of the legendary Alfred Wainwright. Among those hooked is our writer Martin Perry… and here’s why!

"Walking anywhere in this beautiful country is satisfying and invigorating. From where I live in Watnall, Nottinghamshire, I can walk over the Misk Hills or round the lovely Moorgreen Reservoir, or I can even strike out into Derbyshire. Nothing, however, seems to measure up to the Lake District. 

I was fortunate enough to visit New Zealand recently but, for all its magnificent lakes, waterfalls and mountains, I still found myself hankering for a walk across the Lakeland Fells. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that in 2012 I started a personal quest to climb 100 fells as documented by one Alfred Wainwright, the doyen of fell walkers.

I started with the obvious ones; Helvellyn, Scafell Pike, Haystacks and Great Gable, following up with ascents of Skiddaw and Blencathra via the awe-inspiring Sharp Edge. I walked in the company of my great friend Dave Ewing, and our mutual interest and enthusiasm seemed to spur each other on. 

We quickly worked out that it’s more efficient to pick up fells in ‘clusters’ and, by walking the Fairfield, Newlands and Kentmere Rounds - as well as numerous other rounds and horseshoes! - we were able to bag dozens of fells. We’d have to say our favourite so far is Dale Head, with 360° views of the Honister Pass, Buttermere and Crummock Water, not to mention the beautiful descent to Catbells and Derwent Water.

After five years of the best walking holidays of my life, we found ourselves on the summit of Sale Fell in 2017, having completed our target of 100 Wainwrights. It’s far from an exclusive club and I would encourage anyone with a love of walking to attempt it - just prepare well, get outside and go for it. As for me, well, only another 114 left to go - and, judging by the success of Britain’s Favourite Walks, there’s a fair chance I’ll see you on my travels!”

Martin Perry is the co-author, with Geoff Smith, of The Clough Walk, a long-distance trail from Nottingham to Sunderland celebrating the life and landmarks of the legendary Brian Clough. Martin and Dave Ewing have also written a new coast-to-coast book, The Wirral to The Wash, to be published by Sigma Press this year. 

Created On  7 Feb 2018 12:29  -  Permalink

Happy new year… as we know it today!


As 2018 gets underway, our author Geoffrey Davies offers a fascinating look at how the turn of the year has changed through the ages.

There was a recent controversy over the terms BC and AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini, meaning Year of the Lord). In the 19th century, some in Wales adopted a different dating system; the church in the village of Pontsiân in Ceredigion has a date stone showing 5858 OB, which stands for Oed Byd - Age of the World. The age of the world was calculated in the 17th century by Archbishop Ussher, who used the Bible as his source. According to this theory, the earth was created in 4004 BC - meaning that in 2018 the year is 6022 OB.

 Until 45 BC, the Romans used a different calendar, said to have been invented by Romulus. The year started on March 1 and consisted of 10 months, with 61 days in midwinter not assigned to any! This was amended with the addition of January (Ianuarius) and February (Februarius) by King Numa Pompilius around 700 BCE, an alternative to BC meaning Before Common Era. This left the year at 355 days and, as the calendar failed to synchronize with the seasons, an extra month was added in some years!

In 45 BC, Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar of 365 days, beginning on March 1. An extra day was added to February, initially every three years and then every four. The earth orbits the sun in 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds, so having a leap year every four years gradually allowed the calendar to avoid coinciding with the equinox. By 1582, the calendar was 10 days out with regards to equinoxes, and Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the Gregorian Calendar be adopted. This continued with the leap year every fourth year, but in years divisible by 100 there was no leap year (although if the year was divisible by 400, there was a leap year!).

In 1750, Parliament passed the Calendar (New Style) Act in 1750, although it was not until 1752 that Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian Calendar - which meant that September that year was just 19 days long! Historically, the legal year in Britain started on Lady Day, March 25, but the Act changed this to January 1. The change of date explains the anomaly of the end of the tax year being on April 5, which was 11 days after the end of tax year under the Julian Calendar.

The introduction of the Gregorian Calendar was not universally accepted in Britain and in the picturesque Gwaun Valley, five miles south-east of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 13 - the January 1 of the Julian Calendar! Hen Galan is celebrated at the Dyffryn Arms, Pontfaen, and the tradition of the Mari Llwyd - the parading of a horse’s head around the village on a pole and decorated with ribbons - continues to this day.


Geoffrey Davies retired to Wales following a career in investment management and marketing, where he became intrigued by the country’s beauty and wealth of half-forgotten history. His series of books for Sigma Press includes Pembrokeshire Villages, Carmarthenshire Villages and Denbighshire Villages.

Created On  10 Jan 2018 16:31  -  Permalink

Take an Australian wildlife tour with our author Andrew!

A ringneck parrot on Molloy Island.

Australia is a wonderful place to visit for those who appreciate the great outdoors, proving rewardingly rich in wildlife. Our author and nature photographer Andrew Walmsley enjoyed a pre-festive tour Down Under, discovering the areas around Perth, Dunsborough, Molloy Island and Denmark in Western Australia.

I greatly enjoyed my wildlife tour of this huge continent, although the weather wasn’t quite so sunny by the time I arrived in Denmark, further south! Yes, venomous snakes are occasionally encountered - along with other creatures that would do harm to unsuspecting humans - but there’s also a wealth of often gloriously colourful birdlife to appreciate, abundant spring-time wildflowers, many absolutely harmless reptiles and much, much more.

Even city parks and suburbs boast their fair share of parrots, including pink and grey galahs, bright green and yellow ringnecks, multi-coloured rainbow lorikeets and huge, raucous black parrots (supposed harbingers of rain) that flap about in loose flocks, searching for tree seeds on which to feed. Kings Park, overlooking the skyscrapers of Perth, is particularly worth a visit.

Kangaroos are common and widespread away from heavily built up areas.

Areas of bush, thoughtfully left by the planners as the suburbs have spread, and suburban golf courses often harbour the Western grey variety of kangaroo while, in the countryside, these sometimes alarmingly large animals are often abundant, although frequently wary. Visit the Pinnaroo Cemetery, which more resembles open bush land than a UK-style cemetery, not far from the freeway and 20km north of Perth city centre, for remarkably close-up views of kangaroos!

Skinks can be quite confiding and can sometimes be seen scavenging for Food.

Skinks also provide endless fascination. King’s skinks, large black or brown lizards that are particularly common on Rottnest Island, grow to an impressive length of 55 centimetres, whilst Western bobtail skinks are also often seen. Often fittingly known as ‘blue tongues’, these chunky animals, when approached too closely, lift their head in an aggressive pose and stick out their long, blue, diamond-shaped tongue as a warning to interlopers on their patch.
Also worth a visit is Penguin Island. Located a little offshore near Rockingham, 50km south of Perth, it boasts a land mass of just 12.5 hectares but wow, is it rich in wildlife! Sea lions can sometimes be seen from the small ferry boat that carries visitors across to this wildlife paradise, as can bottlenose dolphins, while there’s also a chance of humpback whale sightings during the autumn migration season.

But it’s the birds on Penguin Island that do it for me, although the little penguins that live here are unlikely to be seen other than in the Discovery Centre, as during the day they will typically be either out at sea or concealed deep within their nesting burrows. Bridled terns, however, are abundant on the island from mid-October through to March. These dainty black, grey and white seabirds breed here, but winter in the tropics. Up to several thousand are present and are so tame that good views are always available.
Then there are the Australian pelicans, birds that only started to breed on Penguin Island in around 2000. The island boasts two variably used nest sites that are clearly visible from publicly accessible walkways, both occupied by huge numbers of these enormous creatures that can often be seen flying overhead like ungainly, not-so-small aircraft.

Ospreys can be seen hunting for fish around much of the Australian coastline.

Crested terns, silver gulls, occasional fairy terns, Australian ravens, passing ospreys and skulking buff-banded rails are also present. And, of course, there are the king’s skinks, too, particularly around the picnic area where these cheeky reptiles scavenge for food, wary but largely unafraid of the day trippers.

If you are lucky enough to have the chance to visit Western Australia, you won’t regret it! There’s so much to see and, of course, lots of sunshine to enjoy before returning to the British winter and our own wildlife species.

Created On  5 Dec 2017 11:44  -  Permalink

Holiday happiness

It’s all down to your age! 

If the winter blues are already causing you to reach for the holiday brochures, a new study showing that Brits only really start to get the most from a holiday at the age of 31 might be of interest to you! 

While we might indulge in booze-filled breaks and late nights in our late teens and twenties, we’re ready to swap these for whale watching, art galleries and museums once we pass the big 3-0. The survey, commissioned by Virgin Holidays to mark the launch of 250 new ‘Experiences’, shows that our early thirties are when we truly start to relax and get away from it all, opting for family-friendly activities that will live in the memory longer than a drunken night with friends! 

According to the research, six in ten of us admit to having been on holiday only to return home feeling like we’ve not really had a break at all (sounds familiar!). Top of the list in all age groups is the chance to escape the daily grind, as well as trying new dishes, while other findings include:

  • For a third of carefree 18-29 year olds, the aim of a holiday is to top up the tan, while 29% want to look for vibrant nightlife
  • In our thirties, a quarter of us simply want to read a good book, while 27 per cent want to do ‘as little as possible’
  • A quarter of people in their forties are keen to get off the beaten track, while nearly one fifth are interested in wine and cocktails
  • 27% of holidaymakers in their fifties want to learn something new, while 30% wish to experience a new culture
  • When it comes to the over-60s, three in 10 want to meet interesting people. They also tend to favour multiple destination trips, group tours and cruises

Virgin Holidays managing director Joe Thompson said: "Our research suggests the travel industry needs to do more to offer holidaymakers bespoke holidays, personalised to their individual needs. It’s apparent we all want different things from our getaways and there is no one-size fits all when it comes to holidaying.”

 Here’s what’s top of the wish list for Brits heading on hols! 

1. Foodie experiences

2. Whale watching

3. Helicopter ride over a natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon

4. Museums and art galleries

5. Wine tasting

6. Helicopter ride over a city, such as New York

7. Visiting the set of a favourite film or TV show

8. Local cookery course

9. Driving a classic or luxury car

10. Checking out the local street art


Created On  7 Nov 2017 16:20  -  Permalink

Five did-you-knows about Denbighshire!


The old county of Denbighshire, from its industrial and mining villages in the east to its stunning landscape to the west, is full of surprises - and many are uncovered in Geoffrey Davies’ latest book! The sixth in his ‘Villages’ series, Denbighshire Villages is a treasure chest of fascinating characters and legends waiting to spill out. To celebrate its launch, here are five favourite Denbighshire facts to spark your imagination:


1. Fans of the television series Cadfael, starring Derek Jacobi and based on the novels by Ellis Peters, might want to visit the pretty little village of Gwytherin, five miles east of Llanrwst. It was the setting for A Morbid Taste for Bones, the first in The Cadfael Chronicles series and based on a true story!

2. David Beckham is possibly Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant’s most famous visitor to date, having popped in - landing in a helicopter - earlier this month. He visited the waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr, labelling it as ‘ridiculously beautiful’, and we have to agree! At 240ft it’s one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in Britain and heralded as one of the seven wonders of Wales. Llanrhaeadr was historically in the old county of Denbighshire, although boundary changes now place it in Powys.

3. On the road a mile south of Llansilin, near Oswestry, is a small hill that was once the home of Welsh rebel ruler Owain Glyndŵr. Sycharth Castle was a fine moated mansion with tiled and chimneyed roofs, a deer park, heronry, fishpond and mill - but, today, there’s not even a sign highlighting its location.

4. Kimnel Park, in the parish of Llansaint Sior, near Abergele, is the largest surviving country house in Wales. In 1919, the grounds were home to 15,000 Canadian troops waiting to return home. When news broke that another division was to be given priority, a riot broke out on March 4-5, resulting in the deaths of three Canadian rioters and two guards.

 5. Plas yn Iâl outside the little village of Bryneglwys, five miles north-west of Llangollen, was the home of Elihu Yale, the Governor of Fort St George, Madras, in the late 17th century. He amassed a fortune largely through unofficial deals with Indian merchants and in 1718 sent 417 books, a portrait of King George and goods to the value of £800 to help with the building of the Collegiate School of Connecticut - now known worldwide as Yale College after being renamed in recognition of its benefactor. Yale was buried at St Giles’ Churchyard, Wrexham, and a replica of the church tower was built on Yale campus!

 Born and educated in Glamorgan, Geoffrey Davies returned to Wales on his retirement and became intrigued by the country’s wealth of half-forgotten history and sheer beauty. Other books in his series include Pembrokeshire Villages and West Glamorgan Villages.

Created On  26 Sep 2017 15:42  -  Permalink

Holiday tips from our friend in the north!

Holiday tips from our friend in the north!

"Who is for a holiday between the Tyne and the Tweed? I am for one…” So begins Walter White’s fascinating Northumberland and the Border, published in 1859. Sigma author Mark Lejk, who would love to have met this Victorian enthusiast and accompanied him on his journey, starts a new series of guest blogs by asking whether Northumberland is still a good place for a holiday - and decides that the answer is, undoubtedly, yes!

Well I would say that, wouldn’t I? Having written two walking books about the county, I’m besotted with the place. Instead of driving through it on your way to or from Scotland, as many do, take some time to visit. You won’t regret it!

In this first blog, I shall write about the Northumberland coast. The area between the Coquet Estuary and Berwick-upon-Tweed is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can walk its full 64-mile length along the Northumberland Coast Path while, for cyclists, the Coast and Castles Route (NCN Route 1) links Newcastle and Edinburgh, with 85 miles following the Northumberland coastline. Along the way you’ll pass stretching, sandy beaches, quiet coves, ancient castles, pleasant villages and friendly people.

The beaches are surprisingly quiet. Druridge, Embleton and Beadnell Bays have miles (yes, miles!) of unbroken sand, while my favourite is the wonderfully named Sugar Sands, something of a local secret and the perfect spot for a family picnic.   Along this spectacular coastline are some equally eye-catching castles, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Holy Island acting as historic beacons and all of them open to the public.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is the jewel in the crown. Connected to the mainland by a causeway which floods at high tide, it was the cradle of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times and has a fascinating history. The beautiful priory and the quirky castle are the main attractions but there is a lot more, such as the fine beaches on the island’s quiet north side, where grey seals can often be found basking on the rocks.

 Take a boat trip from Seahouses to the Farne Islands, where you’ll find all sorts of seabirds including puffins, guillemots, shags and eider ducks, as well as a large colony of grey seals. You can also find out about Grace Darling, the Victorian daughter of the lighthouse keeper who was involved in a dramatic shipwreck rescue and became a heroine overnight. An interesting museum dedicated to her life can be visited in Bamburgh village.

As for the weather – yes, it can be a few degrees cooler than the south of the country! But this can often be a relief in the summer, especially for walkers, and the coast is also one of the driest parts of the UK. In fact, it’s often remarkably sunny and clear, even in the winter – just take a look at the photo of Dunstanburgh Castle on the front cover of my first book, which was taken on a January day!

So have I convinced you? Please come and visit; you’ll be very welcome!

Retired University lecturer Mark is the author of Discover Northumberland: Volume 1 and Volume 2, and is currently working on Volume 3. He moved to Whitley Bay 35 years ago and thinks of the north east as his spiritual home. 

Created On  3 Aug 2017 15:56  -  Permalink